The grand and glorious era of the Hal Roach/Our Gang comedies comes to a satisfying and enjoyable end with The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 6 bringing the last twenty-three shorts supervised by the master to Blu-ray disc.
The Production: 4/5
The grand and glorious era of Hal Roach/Our Gang comedies comes to a satisfying and enjoyable end with The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 6. Bringing the last twenty-three shorts to Blu-ray disc (22 one-reelers and one extra special two-reel extravaganza), ClassicFlix rolls out Roach’s last three years of productions concentrating on shorter comedies for Our Gang with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer rising to more of a starring position with the troupe, often with grandiose (or so he imagines) talents as a football player, animal trainer, ace detective, etc., with Spanky McFarland as an ever-reliable sidekick (though Spanky is missing from the last three shorts in the Roach series). Apart from an added kid here and there (Darwood Kaye as “Waldo,” Alvin “Spike” Buckalew), the five core members of the bunch: Alfalfa, Spanky, Darla Hood, Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas, and Eugene “Porky” Lee do the majority of the work in these classic comedies, several of them among the most memorable of the entire series.
The set begins with the Gang’s only Academy Award-winning short Bored of Education which finds the group lamenting another year of school about to get underway (with a new teacher – Rosina Lawrence as Miss Jones) with Spanky and Alfalfa brainstorming a way to have a last free day. The ten-minute running time proves no challenge to Roach’s comic instincts, but Alfalfa’s screech-laden rendition of “Endearing Young Charms” only proves the first of many ear-piercing renditions from the would-be crooner to come both in this set and in his subsequent two years making shorts at MGM. Along the way, we’re also reintroduced to Tommy Bond returning to the series but now playing neighborhood bully “Butch” with Sidney Kibrick as his wing man “Woim.” They first appear in Glove Taps to challenge skeletal Alfalfa to a boxing match and continue on throughout the disc as adversaries to Spanky and Alfalfa as problem solvers in Rushin’ Ballet, rivals for Darla’s affections in Fishy Tales, talent show competitors in Framing Youth, and again fighting Alfalfa, this time as a wrestler, in Came the Brawn.
Hal Roach was loyal to his former rascals, too, as Joe Cobb makes appearances in both Pay as You Exit and Reunion in Rhythm, the latter a delightful musical short that also features appearances by former rascals Stymie Beard, Mary Kornman, and forever freckled Mickey Daniels. But the importance of Reunion in Rhythm is that it serves as a musical appetizer to something special Roach would have in the works. In Rhythm, the gang each gets a spotlight number: Darla (assisted by Porky) with “Baby Face,” Spanky with “Broadway Rhythm,” Alfalfa with “I’m Through with Love,” and guest star Georgia Jean LaRue who belts out “Goin’ Hollywood.” With a flashy production and tip-top songs, Reunion in Rhythm must have generated great acclaim on the lot allowing Roach to mount what would be the series’ most impressive physical production the next year: Our Gang Follies of 1938.
In this wonderful two-reeler, tired-of-crooning Alfalfa longs for a career in opera and after a hasty audition, lands a (fictional) contract with the city’s opera company that won’t take effect for twenty years. Heading back to the gang’s ramshackle stage production, Alfalfa’s dreams of a great career come crashing down but bound to his opera contract, he must sing in the streets where he meets up with old pal Spanky now the owner of the swank Club Spanky on Broadway featuring Buckwheat as the swing band leader, Darla as the singing star, and a massive production featuring a host of talented singers and dancers. With the score a mix of Marvin Hatley originals (“The Love Bug Will Get You”) and standards (a swinging version of “Loch Lomand” and “Learn to Croon”), this is one magnificent short. In addition to Darla playing the Love Bug, we get another appearance by Georgia Jean LaRue brassily singing “That Foolish Feeling” and Philip MacMahon’s “There’s No Two Ways About It” while complementary ensembles of couples both posh and bowery sing and dance in their own unique styles. Roach never produced any short subject grander than this.
In addition to Rosina Lawrence’s memorably kind Miss Jones, we also get two other sterling adult portrayals in this last set of shorts. In Our Gang Follies of 1938, Henry Brandon is featured as the opera impresario who offers Alfalfa the contract, but his major work comes in the dream sequence where he reprises his loathsome character of Barnaby (from Roach’s Babes in Toyland) forcing Alfalfa to keep to his contract to sing opera and not pop songs. And Johnny Arthur, after an earlier appearance with the gang, twice hilariously plays Darla’s put-upon father who can’t get a peaceful night’s sleep in Night ‘n’ Gales and can’t have a pleasant birthday dinner in Feed ‘em and Weep.
Here are the twenty-three shorts contained in volume six of this collection:
1 – Bored of Education
2 – Two Too Young
3 – Pay as You Exit
4 – Spooky Hooky
5 – Reunion in Rhythm
6 – Glove Taps
7 – Hearts Are Thumps
8 – Rushin’ Ballet
9 – Three Smart Boys
10 – Roamin’ Holiday
11 – Night ‘n’ Gales
12 – Fishy Tales
13 – Framing Youth
14 – The Pigskin Palooka
15 – Mail and Female
16 – Our Gang Follies of 1938
17 – Canned Fishing
18 – Bear Facts
19 – Three Men in a Tub
20 – Came the Brawn
21 – Feed ‘em and Weep
22 – The Awful Tooth (the weakest short and one that suggests the preachy MGM shorts to come)
23 – Hide and Shriek
3D Rating: NA
The shorts are displayed at the 1.37:1 aspect ratio and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. These shorts look astonishingly good with crisp, clean images and a startlingly good grayscale which features deep blacks and clean white levels. There is lots of detail to be seen, and it is almost impossible to believe that these shorts are as old as they are. Never have they looked so clear and wonderfully dialed-in as they do here, magnificent restorations all!
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mixes on these shorts constitute a decided step-up in aural quality to those of earlier production histories. There is very little hiss to be heard in this collection while dialogue, music, and sound effects all come through with great punch and authority.
Special Features: 0/5
There are no bonus materials included on the disc. Elsewhere on this site, you can find a restoration comparison montage for some of the films in this set.
There are over four hours of fun times to be found on ClassicFlix’s sixth volume of Our Gang restorations. The shorts look more beautiful than they ever have before, and the audio quality is also leagues advanced from any previous releases of this material. For this volume as with all of the previous ones, highest recommendation!
Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.
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